From the thread count of the sheets that drape its legendary beds to the scent of bath amenities that bring a property's unique personality to life, there is an attention to detail in the design of every single experience that has made Four Seasons synonymous with luxury the world over. This dedication to the guest experience and a belief that no detail is too small is the inspiration behind the new Four Seasons Research and Discovery Studio – or R&D Studio – a workshop designed for experimentation and play that was unveiled today at the company's global headquarters in Toronto.
Complete with graffitied walls, communal meeting and workspaces, and multiple testing areas where ideas can be explored in greater context, the R&D Studio is a collaborative workspace where Four Seasons considers everything from table settings and lighting specs to staff wardrobes and bathroom amenities - all in pursuit of perfecting the guest experience.
"One of the most frequent comments we receive from guests is, 'How do you do it?'" says J. Allen Smith, President and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. "It takes a tremendous amount of effort to create seemingly effortless experiences every single day, at each and every one of our properties around the world. We start by hiring the right people – exceptionally talented individuals who are passionate about what they do, who share a commitment to service and an almost obsessive attention to detail - and give them the tools and freedom to create the experiences that have come to define Four Seasons."
With a growing portfolio of luxury hotels, resorts and private residences in more than 40 countries around the world, Four Seasons maintains its focus on creating unique properties that are custom-designed for each market. Working closely with internationally-acclaimed architects and interior designers, the company creates world-class properties in every location where it operates, properties that are distinct and graceful complements to their locales.
"No two Four Seasons properties are the same," continues Smith. "So while we draw on our experience from previous projects, all of the decisions we make for each property require careful consideration of what the needs of that particular project are, what the vision of that owner is, and the decisions that we think will best enhance the guest experience in that property. Lots of great ideas will come through the R&D Studio; the space allows us to work through a myriad of options in greater context to identify the best solutions for each specific project."
From Virtual to Reality
Touching on all aspects of the guest experience, the R&D Studio is a creative workspace and global resource where employees from across the organisation can come together to experiment, simulate practical challenges, test ideas, and find inspiration.
The space includes work areas dedicated to the fundamental touch points that create the Four Seasons guest experience, including the legendary Four Seasons Bed, a fully-functional bar for testing coffee and cocktail equipment, an atelier to sample and model employee wardrobes, and a table-top staging area to experiment with different combinations of glassware, tableware, and cutlery. As the first hospitality company to provide bath amenities in each guest room – a revolutionary practice that is now a global industry standard – the R&D Studio also includes a dedicated area where Four Seasons can build on this legacy, testing the scents and aesthetics of bathroom amenities to ensure they evoke the personality of each distinct property.
The centrepiece of the R&D Studio is a space where Four Seasons builds three- dimensional replicas of guest rooms entirely of cardboard. Designed to scale and customised with beds, closets, end tables, doorways, and chairs all made of durable cardboard, the Modular Room creates the opportunity to manipulate space and test unusual layouts and particularly challenging room designs in cost-effective cardboard before moving into production of a full model room. This allows team members to understand the implications of their decisions with unprecedented speed and precision, identifying early on in the process what works and what needs further refinement.
Speaking to the importance of the R&D Studio in furthering the company's commitment to the guest experience, Dana Kalczak, Vice President, Design, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, explains, "The R&D Studio is a critical tool for us because it allows us to make detailed decisions in a holistic environment. When we bring everything together in this space, we better understand how the different elements energise and inform one another."
Key to these decisions is recognising how guest behaviours evolve, and adapting the experience accordingly, adds Kalczak. "We use the R&D Studio to explore rooms that can serve multiple purposes – rooms that give our guests greater freedom and control to use the space as they choose. A guest room used to have fixed features – you sleep here, you pour coffee there, you work in one corner and relax in the other. But mobile devices have changed this dynamic. You no longer need to sit at a rectangular wooden desk to 'work' – you can just as easily email and take calls from a sofa or from the bed."
Perfect on Purpose
While the R&D Studio is new, the philosophy behind the space is not. "We have always been focused relentlessly on the many details that contribute to the Four Seasons guest experience," explains Smith. "What the Studio does is provide us with a new venue where we can further refine our craft, ensuring that every detail serves a purpose, is considered in context, and delivers a seamless luxury experience for our guests. On their own, the choices may seem small, but each is intentional. Nothing at a Four Seasons happens by accident; everything is perfect on purpose."